FELICITATIONS will be winging their way from Morgaro Gomis to Moussa Sissoko in the next few days. And when the Dundee United midfielder does catch up with his childhood friend to offer congratulations over his selection for France’s World Cup squad, Gomis might have cause to reflect that both he and the Newcastle United midfielder have made good on those many hours kicking a ball about in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.
A World Cup finals in Brazil belongs in a completely different stratosphere to a Scottish Cup final in Glasgow. Yet, even success in Scotland is altogether removed from the upbringing Gomis and Sissoko experienced in “a tough area” on the northern outskirts of the French capital.
“There is a lot of crime but luckily I didn’t see too much,” says Gomis. “But that is why the suburbs are a difficult place to live in Paris. I didn’t want to stay. I wanted to get out of it. Where I’m from we play football all the time in the street. After school, we’d just take a football and go home late at 9pm. We lived in the same street and were lucky enough to have a football pitch there.
“All the time, we all spoke about becoming footballers. That’s all we thought about. I’ve not spoken to Sissoko since last week. I will speak to him in a few days. I went to see him play at Newcastle recently on a Tuesday night. He got me a few tickets. I am very happy for him that his name is on the list for Brazil. This is a dream for him. It will be great for someone like him to go to the World Cup.”
Gomis is going to Celtic Park on Saturday because his big brother George instilled in him the need to commit to what he realised offered an escape from the gritty life around him. “He played football as well and he always drummed it in to me to work hard and never give up. He said if you work hard something will always happen for you.
“He played amateur football. He’s two years older than me and we were really close. I looked up to him. He works in security now. He said to me that I was a better player than him so he wanted me to make the most of my talent. I thought he was really good and he had a trial for Marseille when he was young. He was a midfielder.”
Gomis scratched around the non-leagues of England in his late teens after coming through the Montpellier academy ahead of a try-out for Paris Saint-Germain. He then thought his break had come when, while with Windsor and Eton in 2005, he earned a two-month trial period at Chelsea. His memories of that now centre around social interactions.
“Emmanuel Petit and Marcel Desailly were there. I spoke to a few of the French players. It was mostly Petit I spoke to. He was really friendly. I just introduced myself after training. I was 18 and he was a World Cup winner and famous in France. I wasn’t nervous, I was happy because I supported France and to see him was great.
“It was pre-season, and then the first team went away and I was there with the reserves. I enjoyed my two months, it was good – I thought I was going to sign. The reserve manager was Steve Clarke. Then he just told me they were not going to give me a contract, just after the last pre-season game.”
Gomis says that “when a club like Chelsea says ‘no’ to you, you just want to go back and prove people wrong. I wanted to show them that I’m still a good player.” So he joined Cowdenbeath, and within six months had moved to United because Craig Levein, then manager of the Tannadice club, had been impressed with the player in a 5-1 defeat.
He is approaching 200 appearances for the Tannadice side with which he is now on his second tour of duty, having rejoined them following two seasons with Birmingham City. In a four-year first spell, he won a call-up to the Senegal national team after a victory in the 2010 Scottish Cup final. One of three survivors of that 3-0 win over Ross County – Sean Dillon and Keith Watson the others – if United can prevail over St Johnstone on Saturday, the trio will be the only players in the club’s history to be double Scottish Cup winners.
“It would be great to have on your CV. I’ve still got the DVD of the game and sometimes I watch it to put a smile on my face,” he says of the greatest day of his career.
It would appear he also has total recall of his first final with the club, even if the 2008 League Cup decider represents a day he would “rather forget”. “I still think about that cruel way we lost that game [to Rangers]. It was crazy, Mark Kerr tried to play the ball to the goalkeeper in the last seconds and Kris Boyd was there to score.
“When we got to extra time we scored and thought we were going to win it again but they equalised again – Kris Boyd again – and we lost on penalties. It was an emotional day as [late owner] Eddie Thompson was ill and we really wanted to win for him. We thought we had done it but that’s football – you never know what can happen.” The football career of Gomis is a perfect illustration of that fact.